Our Strength and Refuge

Two weeks ago I gave a sermon at noon service, a weekly interfaith gathering at HDS, which I hosted with two other Mormon students. We are a small group this year and I’m missing my three friends who graduated last year (they did the two-year MTS degree and I’m doing the three-year MDiv degree) as well as a friend who left HDS to take a job for the church. But it was a beautiful service. The choir sang “Nearer My God to Thee,” Natalie gave the welcome and scripture reading, I gave my sermon, we (the congregation) sang “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee,” and then Zach gave a moving sermon on forgiveness. We closed with “All Creatures of Our God and King,” followed by one of the most sincere and holy prayers I’ve heard, given by my beloved academic adviser and mentor, David Holland.

My only regret is we didn’t get a picture together after the service. Ah, well. Here I am in the beautiful Andover chapel.

IMG_9190.jpg

I cherished being in this space with loved ones. Many friends at HDS, of varying religious and non-religious backgrounds, came to support me. They prayed for me or sent good vibes. Some of my friends from my church congregation came, too. Being in this safe space–being able to share my faith with friends who feel like family–means everything.

Here’s the transcript of my sermon (or, as Mormons say, my “talk”):

Our Strength and Refuge

A few weeks ago I woke up at 3 a.m. in pain with a health issue that caused surgery in the past, and I worried I’d soon be back in the hospital, undergoing another surgery. To distract myself, I decided to read the news—which is probably the worst thing I could have done. I learned about the Equifax breach and that an earthquake had just hit Mexico, a place I love dearly and where nearly all of my in-laws live. Meanwhile, Irma had left a path of destruction and was on its way to Florida, the home of many loved ones and where I spent a year and a half of my life as a Mormon missionary. A cousin had died a few days prior in a car accident. Harvey had left its devastation. Meanwhile, racism and expressions of hatred abound in the world, along with politicians who divide and ban rather than unite and welcome in loving arms.

I didn’t know that soon there would be more earthquakes, another hurricane, and more shootings, including a shooting at a church.

As I sat in pain in the dark in my living room reading this news at 3 a.m., I felt struck by the limits of mortality and the immense suffering of people throughout the world. I thought of the war, famine, disasters, and hatred that devastate the lives of millions of people and touch us all as a human family.

My question today for us as a congregation and as students, staff, and faculty at the remarkable institution of HDS is: How do we find a place where we’re not overwhelmed by suffering but rather propelled and energized to fulfill our vocation?

Trauma has always existed but we feel it weigh on us like never before. Personal and collective trauma continue to build as we populate the world and became more interconnected. Because of access to each other and to information across the world, the trauma can be in our face all the time. I could be reading about it, even watching footage of it, on my smartphone 24/7. In this period of human history marked by connection, my thought today is that we must find time to disconnect from the noise and to recharge—to elevate our sights in order to receive inspiration for how we can best respond to suffering, both in ourselves and in others.

When I say disconnect and elevate our sights, I don’t mean we ignore needs. On the contrary, taking time to look up enables us to better serve because when we access righteous powers bigger than ourselves, we become the best version of ourselves and find strength to do things we haven’t previously had the strength to do.

How can we elevate our sight to do this? Consider this personally for you. If something comes to mind, jot it down. What are your sources of comfort, strength, and refuge? What do you do to disconnect from harsh noise, to make space for subtle quiet spiritual workings in yourself? To find yourself? To remember who you are? To see your potential? When things feel impossible and too big, go back to those sources.

Some of my own sources of comfort, strength, and refuge are prayer, meditation, practicing yoga, reading scripture, holding a child in my arms, journaling, walking in nature, worshiping in sacred temples. These practices connect me to Heavenly Sources. Making this space allows me to commune with God, to feel the perfect, unconditional love of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit—even to feel the love of ancestors who have gone before me and faced immense difficulty—and to feel the love of angels who surround me today, some of whom are in this room.

Who are your angels? Who ministers to you?

You have a unique calling in life that only you can fulfill. You are needed. Your passion is needed, your talents, your skills, your strengths—and even your weaknesses. The good news is: God promises that weaknesses can be made strong. In the Book of Mormon, Jesus tells a prophet:

“If men and women come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto [them] weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all…that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong” (Ether 12:27).

All of your experiences, everything that makes you the person you are, gives you a particular skill set that is needed. You serve the world in ways that other people can’t.

The problems for you to address will always be here—there will always be a need for you to address. We all have work to do. That is why we must protect a portion of our time to do what we often refer to at HDS as self-care—to fill our own cup. To be healthy both spiritually and physically so we can answer our callings in life.

We are not alone on our journey—not alone in our relationships, in our studies, in our work, in our joy and in our pain. The Lord promises: “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:18).

Wise words in Psalm 46 and Psalm 9 read:  “We will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake … The Lord . . . will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.” (Psalms 46:1–3; 9:9)

And as Natalie read from the Book of Mormon: “Remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds…his shafts in the whirlwind…when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down…because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men [and women] build they cannot fall” (Helaman 5:12).

The mighty winds and storms will prevail around us. But we can be rooted, we can stand on the rock of the Redeemer. And with this foundation, we have a promise that we cannot fall.

When our service is centered, refreshed and motivated by Divine love—and when our efforts are magnified, carried, and given by grace—we see through new eyes. We see people and situations differently. We see ourselves differently. Our work is infused with innovation, humility, energy, charity, patience, and forgiveness—not just forgiveness of others but forgiveness of ourselves and our own weaknesses as human beings. We can be sustained and held up by loving hands—hands that know our worth, goodness, light, divinity and ability.

Advertisements

halfway through divinity school

Well friends, I haven’t kept this blog updated so–as you will notice if you scroll down–I just posted a bunch of excerpts from letters (emails) I’ve written friends and families over the last few months. I don’t know why I didn’t think to post these earlier! It’s so easy since I already wrote these updates to simply add them to the blog.

Updates in a nutshell:

1.5 YEARS

into my master’s degree now. Early on in the program I decided to pursue chaplaincy and switch to the master of divinity (MDiv) degree, which is a three-year program. At some points in life things have just felt so right that I know they can’t be wrong, and that’s how it was when I made the switch from the master of theological studies to the MDiv. I changed programs and never looked back.

CLASSES

started a few weeks ago. I’m taking “Archaeology of the New Testament” taught by Laura Nasrallah, which includes a trip to Greece and Turkey in May and is funded by scholarship. I AM SO EXCITED! Prof. Nasrallah is brilliant and inspiring in so many ways. I wish I would have discovered her earlier in my program. I’m also taking Intro to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament part II with Professor Andrew Teeter, which is a blast. Class with Prof. Teeter is always entertaining: he gets so excited while teaching that he runs out of time because he has so much to say; he uses different colored markers to draw rapidly on the white board; he wears cool bow ties; he plays video clips; he uses funny analogies that help you remember things; he gives straightforward study guides before exams. What more could you ask for in a teacher? Other than those two classes I’m continuing with two year-long courses: “Religions and the Practice of Peace” and “Meaning Making” which is a required course for MDiv students and is theological reflection about your field education (internship) during the academic school year.

CORNELL WEST

is back at Harvard! With Roberto Unger, he’s teaching “American Democracy” which is cross-registered as both a divinity and a law school class. In the first class of the semester, the room was so full people were sitting on the floor around the desk where West and Unger were teaching, and people were standing up around all the entrances. I had a front row seat. 🙂 That lecture was moving. The lectures are filmed. Check out this first one here.

img_9167

HOCKEY

is so fun to watch. Waldir and I, along with some friends, recently went to a Harvard women’s hockey game against Cornell. If you’ve never been to a hockey game you should sometime–it’s a blast! Also Waldir and I went to see Harvard vs. Brown women’s basketball last weekend and that was fun, too.

a BLIZZARD 

came last Thursday. Some classes were canceled. More snow on Sunday and church was canceled!

img_9295
Walking home in the blizzard–brrr
img_9330
Post blizzard. The Charles River is beautiful this time of year–sorry for my cellphone snapshot, which doesn’t do it justice. Also my hands were freezing.
img_9332
I cross this bridge every day on the way to school and I just love it. Love the Charles River!

Listen

December 18, 2016

Greetings from Mexico! Waldir and I are on a plane.

The weekend before my last final exam, by Saturday night, I hadn’t achieved what I had planned to achieve on my to-do list, and there wasn’t enough time to do everything I felt I needed to do (mainly, study for my last exam). I had planned to go to the temple Saturday because earlier in the week I felt I needed temple blessings of spiritual protection and guidance, and Saturday night would be the only time available to go. But as I was running out of time that night, I felt an urgent need to study for this exam. I thought, “The Lord understands that doing well on this exam is urgent for me right now.” So I kneeled to pray and told Him I decided not to go to the temple because it made sense at this time not to go. I thought about how I can go to the temple throughout my life but I only had one shot to do well on this exam and only a few hours to study. So I got up and started cooking dinner, in a hurry to finally sit down and study for my exam.

When I finished dinner, though, I knew I had made the wrong decision. I looked at the clock and realized I’d probably miss the last temple session (7 pm), but I decided to try to catch it. I ran out the door. Miraculously, I made it to the session. I don’t remember anything particularly special about the temple that night except the fact that I felt right knowing I did what I felt was the right thing to do. It didn’t feel easy prioritizing the temple at that moment, but it felt right. I squeezed some study time in early Monday morning and took my final exam in the afternoon, and the Lord helped me. I can’t imagine the exam having gone any better. This is not to say that I didn’t prepare; I’d been doing the work in that class throughout the semester, and then, when time was short at the end of the semester, as I studied Monday morning, I felt the Spirit’s enlightenment giving me motivation to stay focused and helping me remember material.

By listening to the Spirit and by being diligent in seemingly small ways, our work is blessed. We do everything better, and things come together.

I started the semester wondering how and if things would work out—and I thought I might need to drop a class—but it worked. Things haven’t miraculously become easy but I’ve learned how to stay steady during the ups and downs. My own weaknesses have been front and center for me this semester, but as cliché as it sounds, I grew immensely because of recent challenges. And looking back, I wouldn’t change it because I learned (painful but important) lessons.

God blessed me in ways I can see already and also in ways I can’t now comprehend but one day will see more clearly. “For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). I look forward to that future day of knowing, and I’m grateful that today we can know and see clearer as we look to the Light. Merry Christmas!

election night

November 2016

Ironically, I was with the HDS Muslims (and some other Muslims from around the community) on the night of the election, and it was painful. The past week at school has been even more painful. We’ve been going through stages of grieving. Shock turned to rage turned to deep sadness. I cried in two of my classes—not just a few tears, like, streaming-down-my-face kind of tears. Professors cried. For days, I couldn’t sleep at night…crashed around 4 a.m. to sleep for a few hours.

I’m surprised that the results of this election have been so visceral, raw, and—well, bodily. Post-election discussions at Harvard have addressed the election as a traumatic event, and I really do feel that there’s a lot of community trauma right now.

One of my Muslim friends, who is a first-year student at HDS, has family members in Michigan who have been threatened; as she kept getting phone calls from her mom about these threats last week, she asked her mom what to do. My friend was wondering if she should go home and be with family. Her mom chastised her, told her to get up off the ground (figuratively), and get to work. This response was heartening, full of energy and life. She told her daughter, “Your father and I didn’t immigrate to America for you to quit…”

And so, a fire has been lit—or rekindled—in many of us.

Chaplaincy, and a cyst

July 31, 2016

Friday I completed my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, nearly finishing my summer chaplaincy internship at Saint Vincent Hospital! I’ve got a bit of time to make up. After my surgery, I missed 6 days of work. I’ll make the time up in August. My supervisor’s been merciful with this health bump of mine and I’m grateful that I was able to receive my level 1 CPE certificate even with the unexpected obstacle. Back in May, the morning of the first day of my internship, I had severe pain in my lower left abdominal area. I made it through work and then went to a doctor who advised me to go to the ER, so off I went. I drove myself since Waldir was out of town. Ultrasounds showed that I had a large ovarian cyst (over 5 centimeters). Cysts bigger than 4 cm can cause the ovary to “torse” (twist) around itself and block blood flow; that’s a medical emergency and needs to be taken care of surgically in order to save the ovary. By the time I finally saw the gynecologist that night, though, I felt better. She said the ovary was likely on the verge of torsing but the cyst probably moved, which is why I felt better. She decided not to do surgery because usually the body takes care of cysts by itself. After that day I started feeling better and thought the cyst was disappearing.

But on the eve of July 12, a sudden pain wave caused me to cry out. Not wanting another hospital bill, I stuck it out an hour and a half, thinking I’d be fine. Waldir gave me a priesthood blessing for healing; in the blessing I was promised that although the pain would not leave, there wouldn’t be permanent damage. After the blessing and a prayer, I knew I needed to go to the ER. I vomited on the way out (but made it to the toilet!). I finally went into surgery around 5 a.m. the next morning. During that time, the pain didn’t let up, even after two doses of morphine and a dose of dilaudid. Finally my nurse gave me more dilaudid and I relaxed, but by then I was about to go in for surgery. When I came out of it, one of the doctors told me they saved the ovary! I wasn’t surprised (because of the blessing), but I was grateful. I’m always emotional coming out of anesthesia, and I cried tears of joy. The ovary was twisted around itself, along with the fallopian tube, not once but twice. But once the doctors untwisted it, blood flow came back immediately.

I’m nearly all recovered now and feeling much better! Thankfully, Waldir was home to take care of me—huge blessing. Recovery was a setback but it didn’t ruin much; I still “graduated” with the other CPE students on Friday; yesterday I still got to throw the baby shower a friend and I planned for another good friend; and I will still get to go to girls camp this Tuesday-Saturday, which is good since it’s stake camp (girls from multiple congregations come together to attend) and there aren’t many leaders. I’m one of the four leaders assigned to the 1st-year campers. There are 33 of them. I was thinking this would be easy (because 12-year-olds will love you, right?). 

In other news: Waldir and I went to the temple yesterday and accidentally ended up in a Portuguese group, which was FUN! I loved it.

Today in church, Waldir made a special appearance in the primary (children’s class) as David from the David/Goliath story. He came out of a “time machine” and told the kids how his faith in the Lord helped him defeat Goliath. 🙂

Salem

We headed over to Salem a few weeks before Halloween. The little town was packed (that’s how it is on a Saturday in October) and it was freezing outside, but the sun shone brightly and we ventured around happily with mittens and hats on. We loved exploring the House of the Seven Gables (a mansion built in 1668–my favorite part was the “secret staircase,” and I also loved the black cat hanging around outside) and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace.

News

  1. I’ve been homesick for Utah and Idaho: the mountains, the friendly people who smile at me, BYU’s familiarity, the climate, and—I can’t believe this—I even miss the Mormon bubble I used to whine about and talk of reforming. I’ve been homesick for people: my Momzie and Dad, my sisters, and my in-laws. I cried repeatedly in church yesterday thinking about my homesickness. I wanted to walk out of the chapel and leave altogether, but I did not. I made it through all three meetings without walking out. (And that’s a long time.) I looked at my lap, at my feet, played with my hands, sniffed, tried to find a Kleenex. I did not find a Kleenex and—wishing I had worn a sweater over my short sleeve dress (or anything with more fabric)—wiped my nose with my hand. I snuggled up to Waldir, gave him a kiss, and then—suddenly aware of the people around me—thought maybe I should be less snuggly for the moment.
  2. And so, lately as I pray, feeling homesick, I feel extra vulnerable, extra humble, extra child-like. This state of emotional being has its perks: I feel extra close to my Father God because I—like a child—kneel down to pray and ask to feel His arms around me. What’s better than feeling extra close to God?
  3. I think about how upheaved I’ve felt the past few days and then wonder how I would have done this—the east-coast move—without Waldir. Before we got married I promised myself I wouldn’t gush over him on social media. I’ve been doing a good job, but I have to say: I want to gush all over the place about Waldir.
  4. And, I realize as I write this, I’ve probably been emotional lately because Waldir’s been working evening shifts, and I miss him.
  5. But Boston. We love Boston. But then, I feel weary here, sitting inside my apartment, listening to ever-flowing traffic outside. The cars and the (much louder) buses go all night. I hear people talk as they walk by our apartment windows. We’re right on the street, situated beside the Dunkin’ Donuts on one corner and the gas station on the other. The noise! I don’t feel like there’s a place I can go to rest except the temple. There’s not a home base to go and get away from people. Of course I love Boston, and people. I simply want to get away for a few minutes and hear nothing. I could sleep with earplugs but I’d prefer not to have to do that. I did once, last week, and still woke up in the early hours of the morning.
  6. The house in which we live is old. Its sewer pipe has been broken and flooding the basement of our apartment with water. Two men from Nicaragua live down there. They kept dealing with this water flooding the bathroom. Eventually the landlords realized what had happened. Finally, four days ago, the city got to work and found the broken pipe. They finished mending the problem morning. Waldir and me, our Nicaraguan friends downstairs, and the five guys that live on the floor above us had a not-so-pleasant weekend without water: no flushing of toilets, no showering, no shaving, no washing of hands, not much cooking—you get it. I don’t wish to repeat this no-water lifestyle, but it did increase my gratitude as I reflected on the miracle of life’s sustaining resource, the most precious resource we’ve got, and the privilege to live in a country where clean water comes for granted.
  7. Someday I hope to help people who need water, people living in countries less fortunate than mine, immigrants and refugees who just need a chance to make it. Meanwhile I live in my comfortable bubble and mourn the suffering of others. Waldir and I remind each other that Jesus Christ will make all of this right someday—restore and give perfect life to children of God everywhere, the human family. In the meantime, we pray and work and try to relieve some sliver of suffering in the world. We don’t know where to start. We start with each other.
  8. During HDS orientation, Kerry Maloney, the school’s chaplain, ended one of the meetings with a moment of silence and then left us with the following words: “May we relieve some of the great suffering in the world. That’s what we’re all here to do.” I want to remember that the next two years while I’m at the academy, and afterward. This is why I’m at divinity school.